Why Wedding Dresses?

Wedding Koi SamuiIn my previous blogs, I’ve talked about how what my characters wear is a vital to the way I portray them. The clothes are determined by the people, not the other way around, but, sometimes, my stories begin with the clothes themselves.

This train of thought was set off by the publication of my short story “Something Old, Something New,” in Authors Electric Anthology, “One More Flash in the Pen.” The story is set in a shop that sells wedding dresses and it occurred to me that the wedding dress is a recurring image in my work.

It is the trigger for that particular story, it appears again in “Shadows on the Grass,” my current WIP and in “Number Three Belvedere Terrace” the novel, whose first draft is awaiting attention on my hard drive.

There is something very powerful in the idea of a dress, which has to be so special and yet will be worn only once. The style of the dress is very specific, overtaking cultural and traditional norms,Wedding in Kerela

so that on holiday in Vietnam and Thailand we have seen brides dressed in a big white dress. WEdding in Hian

This concept is relatively new. Throughout history, brides wore their best for their wedding, but the dress would go on to be worn on other occasions.

The white wedding, as we know it, began when the young Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and wore a white dress. At first, it was merely a fashionable colour, then it appears to have taken on a symbolic significance, white being seen as the colour of virginity.

I remember, in the fifties, when a girl at our church “had to get married” ie was pregnant, her mother refused to let her wear the traditional white dress and she had to be married in pink. Exactly what this was supposed to say to the congregation I am not sure. It also seemed rather cruel to be pointing out that this was a girl who had obviously sinned.

This symbolism was so deeply engrained in my consciousness that for years I found it difficult when mothers with children walked down the aisle in white. Nowadays, however, the link between the white dress and purity has long gone and anyone can dress in white for their wedding. Whether they should spend so much money on a dress that will have only one outing is another issue.

My daughter Posy Miller used to say that the big white wedding, plus of course the expensive dress, was the one opportunity for many girls to be the centre of attention for the whole of one special day. It wasn’t the dress itself, but the occasion that mattered and that any girl who didn’t get married should still have a “wedding” celebration, where she could be “Queen for the Day.” In her opinion there would be fewer divorces too, as so often the wedding, rather than the marriage, is the aim.

“Reader I married him.” Is, of course, where many romantic novels end, because the depiction of the marriage, although there is, to be fair, a hint of that in “Jane Eyre,” is far more mundane and fraught with difficulties.

Besides, do we really want to know what Elizabeth and Darcy said to each other over the breakfast table? Whether he snores, or she picks her nose?

Enough that our heroine walks down the aisle in a fluff of white. A bouquet of flowers in her hand and her future as misty as her view of the world through her veil.

 

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Posy Miller: Juliet in Jamaica

 

Posy JulietToday is Posy’s forty-sixth, birthday. Or rather should I say, would have been. The exact terminology is difficult here. Although she died in 2001, in so many ways she is still part of us and definitely part of our lives. So although she is not here to celebrate with us, we will be raising a glass to her and reminiscing. What will make this celebration extra special is that that we will be sharing it with her great friend and companion in devilment, Jonathan Clarkson.

The stories he can tell, I will leave up to him, what I’ve been remembering, is how Pose achieved her ambition to play Juliet.

It began with a conversation. She was visiting us in Jamaica and we had been to Port Royale, once the pirate capital of the Caribbean only the ruined citadel remains, but she saw it as the perfect setting for “Romeo and Juliet”. At the time Pose had no funding, no company and only a couple of actors she knew she could call on for her project. Nothing daunted she allied herself with Jim Malcolm, the deputy High Commissioner, and a good friend of ours, and together they hatched a cunning plan.

The upshot of which was a tour of the island by In Cahoots, Posy’s newly formed theatre company. While she went back to the UK to audition fellow actors, Jim set about funding from the Arts Council and finding venues and accommodation for the company.

They arrived on a hot, steamy Jamaican night, on the ten o’clock flight from London. As well as their luggage, they had a box of swords, which Jonathan insisted looked like a coffin for a dwarf. Special clearance had to be given to bring these dangerous weapons into what was at the time the murder capital of the world. Once safely through customs, the tour could begin.

There were performances in schools, hotels and the Edna Manley Theatre in Kingston, which was an open air amphitheatre. This was my first experience of Shakespeare in Jamaica and I loved the way the audience was totally involved. They cheered, they clapped, they called out warnings and advice to the characters.

Down Town Kingston was another experience altogether. Because at the time there was much violence between rival political factions, the actors were driven there in convoy, guarded by police. As we reached the boundary between New Kingston and Down Town, the lead car stopped, the driver got out and fixed a Union Jack on the bonnet. Being British we could pass safely through the worst areas, but even so, the route was lined with armed police and half way through the play the Inspector came in with his AK47 to check that all was well.

Once again the audience was brilliant and the headmistress and staff so grateful that the actors had come to their school. Not that a little matter like gang violence would have stopped Pose. If it was at all possible then she would do it.

Half MoonIn direct contrast was the performance at Half Moon Hotel, where the actors had their own villa, plus maids and a cook and butler. The house had its own pool and there was skinny dipping at midnight and horse riding along the beach at dawn.

The most magical evening, for me however, was at the High Commission where on a balmy tropic night the tragedy of the two young lovers was played out on the veranda of the old colonial mansion.

Posy Juliet 1

There will be no more outdoor Shakespeare, no strange plays in little theatres, or appearances at the Edinburgh Festival.

But Pose being Pose, this is not the end of the story. After she died, her friend Guy made a film using clips for a project that was to be pitched to the BBC.

Sam Jackson’s Video Diary, is out still out there and has recently been re-mastered. If you want to see her again, or just get a flavour of the woman she was.  Click HERE.

 

 

 

Posy Miller

Posy pics from Jonathan 018
Today July 31st is Posy’s birthday. She was born in the middle of a thunderstorm on a hot summer’s night when lightening zig-zagged across an emerald sky. She died, of leukaemia on Christmas Eve, 2002, a crisp blue sharp morning. That night the family gathered at our house for the traditional Polish Christmas meal. We had discussed cancelling it, but Posy’s partner, Kane was adamant that we should go ahead and so we toasted her and the baby who had died with her and celebrated the life she had led.

That evening was typified her life. Whatever Pose did, she did it wholeheartedly and with joy. She might not have made much money, but she worked as an actor even when she was ill, not that she knew how serious it was, none of us did, the kindly couple she was lodging with would bring her breakfast in bed. When she wasn’t working, in those last months, she was writing a hilariously surreal novel about her experiences as a supply teacher in various London schools, corresponding with a prisoner on Death Row, supporting Bob a random stranger she’d met on a train and who also had terminal cancer.

At her funeral we sang “Happy Birthday” her crazy idea and ate the Christmas cake she’d baked.

Later, she starred in “Sam Jackson’s Secret Video Diary.” http://www.samjacksonmovie.co.uk/beyond.html Guy Rowlands’ film about a missing woman, which was screened at the Raindance Festival in the West End and nominated for a British Independent Film Award. Who says you can’t achieve your ambition even after death?

Pose would have been sneaped, however, to have missed all her friends and family gathering in the cinema to see her. She always wanted to be there right in the middle of things and for us she still is. Her photographs are up in all our houses, we talk about her, and toast her on all her important days.

As for me, I talk to her often. When I’m down about my writing, I remember her belief in me and pick myself out of my pit of misery.

And of course she is there in everything I write. She inspired Polly in the “Dragonfire” trilogy and there are traces of her in Mouse, in “Clear Gold.”  She’s Poppy in “Picking up the Pieces” and it’s her accolade that concludes the novel.

Happy Birthday, Pose. I’ve no idea what happens after death, but in the hearts and minds of your friends and family, you are still and always will be here with us.
Posy pics from Jonathan 059